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Leadership Practices in the Girl Scouts

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"Leadership Practices in the Girl Scouts"

What constitutes effective leadership? If you ask ten people you will likely get a variety of answers. In fact, a great deal of time is spent defining what leadership means to the individuals within any organization and in the end it often becomes individual preference of what characteristics a follower thinks should be present in good leadership because different people respond to different things. The Girl Scouts, a widely known organization that I was fortunate enough to be a part of, exemplifies sound leadership characteristics and strives to impart these characteristics to young girls. This paper will endeavor to share some of the key points that the Girl Scouts embody with regards to leadership, and outline why those characteristics are important in everyday life as well as in the professional work place.

Leadership is a word frequently used in the Girl Scouts. I had the opportunity to be a Girl Scout Leader for several years when my daughter was growing up. One key point to being a leader in the Girl Scouts is taking on the responsibility of developing the young girls into leaders themselves. The organization itself plans and carries out operations under the direction of a board and staff leaders, and a lot of emphasis is placed on recruiting volunteer leaders as well.

In the Girl Scouts, the girls are taught from a young age what it means to be a leader and what characteristics and actions are important to being a positive and effective leader. From an early age, the girls are taught that a leader is someone who helps others do and become more than they ever thought possible. They are also taught that leadership is about unlocking potential, whether individual potential or that of a group, community, company or organization. Girl Scouts teaches that leadership is not merely telling people what to do, but inspiring them to see what they are capable of, then helping them to get there. (Kloninger, 2011)

There is no denying that leadership is a hot topic. One online search found 22 million web site listings for the word "leadership." (Vojta, 2012) It is common sense that good leadership gets things done, but the quality of the leadership determines the difference between a team that is passionate about what they are doing versus one that is merely following orders. The Girl Scouts uses the transformational approach in their leadership to help the girls to learn and understand the value of being an ethical and moral leader. The Girl Scout Leaders are charged with being positive role models for the girls, and there is a huge emphasis placed modeling them to them through actions rather than merely telling them "do as I say but not as I do". (Goldsmith, 2008)

In the Girl Scouts organization, the idea of knowing "where you're going" is of great importance. It is key that effective leaders know what is important to them, what their own individual strengths and weaknesses are, what drives them, and where to draw the line. Putting all this together will result in a leader who has self-confidence and clear values. Knowing oneself is necessary when faced with challenges or ethical choices, communicating with those who have different ideas, making decisions and identifying sources of satisfaction. "We need to be clear about our own values, priorities, and preferences and not let someone else, or society, define them for us," says Marina Ruderman, a group director and the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, North Carolina. "By clearly identifying those values, priorities and preferences, we can articulate what we want, develop benchmarks, and make better choices."

For Girl Scouts, the Promise and Law provide a solid foundation for their ethical values. It is critical in the organization that every member starts from the same basis. As Karen White, GSUSA Director of Volunteer Development and Diversity explains, "The value of an individual must match the values of the Girl Scout Movement. We then encourage an individual's future growth through training, mentoring and coaching." (Kloninger, 2011) It is through this process that the transformational approach is used to successfully mentor and mold the girls. It is by providing learning opportunities, both formal and informal, that Girl Scouts helps girls, volunteers, and staff members develop stronger self-awareness.

In addition to being self-aware, an effective Girl Scout Leader is not afraid to take on responsibilities and is regularly encouraged to do so. Sometimes this requires putting the organization or group first, and keeping it there. Cynthia Thompson, Chair of the National Board of Directors, GSUSA, said, "I believe a lot of people understand what it means to be a leader, but the difference comes down to commitment. True leadership requires you to make sacrifices, including putting others before yourself." Gayle Davis, GSUSA Senior Director admits that "Sometimes our use of the word 'leadership' can put people off. A potential volunteer may think 'I can't do that; I've got no experience or qualifications.' When really what we're looking for is a mentor, a person who prompts others to be their best, someone who cares and listens, someone confident in her beliefs and is willing to be there."



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